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Not Buying It: I Should Not Have Bought It
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
I’ve been trying to cut back on my spending and focus more on the joys of saving money. So when I came across Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping at Goodwill, I bought it (it was only a dollar.)
The premise seemed good: the author, Judith Levine, was alarmed at the amount of money she spent at Christmas one year ($1,001, and she’s a ATHEIST!) and at how much junk she and her partner had accumulated during their 12 years together, and decided to go for a year without buying anything.
Of course, this is impossible. Only a baby can go for a year without buying anything. I see little kids hand over money for stuff, but I’ve yet to see a baby waving a $20 for some Gerber jars of mashed carrots. What Levine means is that she’s going to go for a year without buying anything “unnecessary.”
And “unnecessary” is a subjective term. She includes food as something necessary (I guess scrounging through garbage cans in her Brooklyn neighborhood is a little too starving artist for her) and spends $60 for smoked whitefish for a party. She also sends her partner, Paul, out for an extra container of sour cream, which ends up not being used. She defends the fish as necessary, because she purchased it for her fourth annual Chanukah Latke Bash, but I am not so sure about that.
Levine is one of these women that I would probably dislike, but envy and aspire to be at the same time. She is a “low-paid writer” (earning about $45,000 a year, a sum I’ll never reach even if I give up the straight and narrow and become a prostitute/stripper/drug dealer) living in Brooklyn part of the year, and in Vermont with Paul at his place. So she essentially has two homes, she has a cool job and she gets more than minimum wage. She can afford to drop $1000+ at Christmas. She sees a pair of pants at $138 in a cute shop and decides, in a moment of weakness, to buy them. Okay, so they are slightly less than $138, when you figure in the 30 percent discount, but still. I’ve NEVER spent $138 on a single pair of pants in my life. I like nice stuff as well as the next person, but I take pride in the bargains I’ve found in my life: the Seven jeans for $15 (they normally run around $70) the Ralph Lauren sweater for $125 (which was marked down to $30, that came with an additional 15 percent off) and my pride and joy, the Emanuel Ungaro little black dress I picked up for $1.25 at a church rummage sale where paper grocery bags full of clothes went for $5 each. With $138, I could get several new outfits at Old Navy, or go to a thrift store and really stretch my dollars.
I was hoping for tips on saving money, but the book, divided into chapters, which are then broken down into dated journal entries, is woefully short on how to make do with less. Levine talks of deprivation, but it’s more along the lines of wondering where her SmartWool socks are, scouring the library for books on making fabric flowers and missing out on seeing Fahrenheit 911 in the theater. A relative was graduating college and discussion revolved around what to get for her. Paul was trying his hand at origami figures. Making silk flowers was an idea too. But the figures weren’t working and it was hard to find silk flower books, so instead, Levine gives the relative (I think it’s a niece) a necklace she’d had for a while. It takes her about two months to figure out that giving something already made is easier than making something. However, since purchasing food was “necessary,” why not just make her some loaves of bread or cookies? I also can’t understand, since I think Levine had Internet access, why she didn’t look for websites that had craft ideas you could execute with stuff found around your house if she really wanted to make a gift. I’m sure if she made an effort, she could have driven around various neighborhoods the night before the trash is picked up and could have snagged an old coffee table for nothing. Practical (college grads have to furnish their new pads) and cheap! Levine is educated, as is her partner, but sometimes I wonder how she would have fared under the circumstances I had to go through two years ago. Take away her money, her profession and her contacts, and I wonder if she would have done better or worse than me.
I’ll admit, I was suckered into this book. However, it was only $1. Better that I buy it at Goodwill than to have made the mistake of paying the $25 cover price at Barnes and Noble or some other overpriced book emporium. I can always resell it. But if you’re interested in this book, do yourself (and your wallet) a favor and get it from the library. It’s a bit hard to enjoy a book about not buying stuff from people who are better off than you are, however slight. It’s one of the reasons educated, lefty types are resented. THEY are the ones who can afford to slum it, but when they get bored, it’s back to the Veuve Clicquot and smoked whitefish. Those of us who shop at Aldi’s and Goodwill to save a few bucks can only dream of the day we can drop $60 on fish for a party.